Claims that hurling has only woken up to the idea of change in the wake of football landing its ‘Super 8’ are mischievous as they are disingenuous from some quarters.
In 2015, a number of the game’s leading counties looked for the composition of the league to be altered, only to be knocked back largely because they will always be outnumbered by football counties at Central Council, who in such circumstances will row in behind what Croke Park wants.
Something similar happened in 2012 when the Tommy Lanigan-chaired Hurling Development Committee’s (HDC) proposal to establish the Munster and Leinster championships as five-team competitions played on a round-robin, home and away basis was rejected by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).
“We were all just completely frustrated,” said Lanigan at the time.
“We don’t mind if our proposals are rejected but we do require a wide-ranging hearing amongst hurling people. If they are rejected then, that’s fine. But it feels as if the CCCC said ‘Thanks very much boys but that’s it now — good luck’.”
Lanigan’s format is favoured by current HDC chairman Paudie O’Neill. “Personally, I would love a system like that,” he told this newspaper in December 2015.
O’Neill’s group were known to have discussed championship structure ideas prior to football’s Super 8 being endorsed by Congress.
But if the former Tipperary selector is to carry out as impressive a job as he and director of games development Pat Daly have done with the Celtic Challenge, it’s important they are allowed to get on with it.
Lanigan’s experience will serve as a warning that such freedom is easier promised than delivered.
“League-alising” the provincial championships is worth exploring although there will be traditionalists who will make strong arguments that the knockout element of the provincial competitions shouldn’t be touched. However, the cry for more high-profile championship games now seems universal.
If the HDC wanted to apply a softer touch while adding matches, they might look at devising a Super 6 format — two groups of three (Munster winners, Leinster runners-up, qualifier winners and Leinster winners, Munster runners-up, qualifier winners).
The provincial champions would be given home advantage in both of their games and the runners-up in their game against the team that has come through the qualifiers. The top two in each would qualify for the All-Ireland semi-finals. It would mean four games on top of the five at present in the All-Ireland series.
A more dramatic suggestion would be to form a Super 6 league involving the remaining six teams where they would face each other over a five-week period with the top two earning All-Ireland final spots. Such a system would increase the number of matches by 11.
However, as the GAA have done with removing football’s Division 1 semi-finals, that could be offset slightly by getting rid of hurling’s Division 1 quarter-finals. Nevertheless, the impact on clubs would likely make it unfeasible.
GAA president Nickey Brennan, the man who saved Congress from a PR foul-up last Saturday week, has suggested a discussion on a new SHC blueprint could be commenced “very quickly” and mentioned the possibility of staging a Special Congress at the end of the year.
However, GAA director general Páraic Duffy seemed to rule out the idea of assembling delegates again in 2017 when asked about the need to address the situation of Galway and Antrim being isolated in underage All-Ireland competitions.
“No, we need to sit down with the parties first, but I think we are doing so in an atmosphere of goodwill.”
Hurling isn’t the child complaining their 99 ice-cream cone is smaller than their sibling’s. Theirs boasts the sprinkles, the strawberry syrup and the Flake.
They know they don’t have to be big to be beautiful but they can’t be overshadowed either. The game’s premier competition needed a revamp prior to Congress’ decision. Hurling knew it too. The Super 8 has sharpened minds.
It’s eight years since a Special Congress was last called, which was the fourth in as many years. Back then, the GAA showed a willingness to address matters of urgency.
If the threat posed by an extended football championship to hurling next summer and the “exclusion” of Galway at underage level, as their minor manager Jeffrey Lynskey put it, aren’t deemed issues that require immediate attention, then it begs the question if hurling is being best served by the GAA.
Debating motions three or four months early so that they could come into rule from next year as opposed to 2019 shouldn’t be too big an ask. Surely not when hurling, ”the jewel in the crown”, according to GAA president Aogán Farrell, is at risk of being swallowed up next July and August when its championship games will be outnumbered almost four to one by football.
Surely not for an organisation whose chiefs have to do so much more to convince the hurling fraternity that they have their backs.
There’s being reactionary and then there’s doing your duty. A Special Congress for hurling this October would be in keeping with the latter.
Cork bosses need to front up
In yesterday’s Irish Examiner, our colleague Kieran Shannon highlighted a point we had been meaning to get back to — the failure of Cork football boss Peadar Healy to present himself to the media after games.
It’s known Healy isn’t all that comfortable speaking to journalists and certainly his selector Eoin O’Neill is adept in such situations.
In fairness to Healy, he spoke to the press following last year’s All Ireland qualifier defeat to Donegal but since then it has been left to O’Neill to represent and, in the cases of the Kildare and Clare losses, to carry the can.
From time to time, Kieran Kingston, who did front up after Sunday’s reverse against Kilkenny and the home defeat to Dublin as well as the opening win over Clare, has commissioned his selectors to speak to the media on behalf of management.
Pat Ryan filled the role last year and Pat Hartnett has done on occasions this year.
Kingston himself had done so for a time when assisting Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
In-house, this practice may be regarded as a means of sharing the load but if sport has provided a message about management over and over again it’s that the buck stops with one man.
If managers preach about accountability to their players, they have to look at themselves first.
LGFA leads the way once again
The word ‘reactionary’ is used elsewhere on this page and it would so easy to dismiss the Ladies Gaelic Football Association’s (LGFA) plans to introduce video evidence on foot of the controversy in last year’s senior final as just that.
At TV games, an independent observer may now signal to the ref if there is an issue with a score or wide.
Admittedly, the idea of video evidence in TV games doesn’t tally with the LGFA’s reasoning for not investing in HawkEye — after Dublin forward Carla Rowe’s wide, which was shown to have sailed between the posts in last year’s final, they explained such technology couldn’t be applied across the board. However, video evidence certainly is a more costeffective way o f score detection.
The direction they are taking is consistent with an open forward-thinking approach taken to ensure the integrity of their game. The clock/hooter is now a staple of their game and provides transparency.
The GAA’s reasons for not adopting similar are as flimsy now as they were when delegates were compelled to perform a u-turn having initially backed Wexford’s proposal to introduce it.
It was reasoned that it would lead to unedifying finales in games. But could it be as unseemly as a leading team gladly picking up black cards to stop attacks?
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